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(photo credit: Yifa Yaakov)
The Barby, Tel Aviv
"There was never any good old days, they are today, they are tomorrow," sang Eugene HÃ¼tz at the Barby on Sunday night, bouncing around the stage in a rainbow-colored T-shirt and paint-splattered red trousers. "It's a stupid thing we say, cursing tomorrow with sorrow."
Around him were arrayed the merry men and women of Gogol Bordello: an accordionist, fiddler, guitarist, bassist, dancer-gymnast, bongo-drummer/MC and cymbal-player cum cheerleader. They are a colorful, culturally diverse group, a multinational traveling gypsy troupe.
And the crowd went wild for it all, the lyrics of opener "Ultimate" barely discernable over the song's high-powered gypsy-flavored punk rock beat. Almost without pause, the band launched into the first strains of "Sally," driven by a correspondence between fiddle and accordion. The crowd kept up with the band unfailingly, singing along, jumping, dancing, shoving, readily embracing HÃ¼tz's "cult revolution."
Sunday's show was the last leg of Bordello's European tour. They've done it all, from the festival circuit to small clubs in big cities. On Saturday they played at Hangar 11, also in Tel Aviv, drawing a throng of 2,000. Although the crowd in Sunday's sold-out show was significantly smaller, it was no less enthusiastic as Boom Pam, the opening act, set the stage for a night of Balkan rhythms.
The show took off from the start and only got better. "In the old times it was not a crime," we all shouted together, punks, indie music fans and Russian immigrants alike. On the stage, HÃ¼tz moved from corner to corner, pounding away Balkan rhythms on his guitar and belting out the lyrics to one of the Bordello's most well-loved gypsy anthems.
The party continued with "Wonderlust King," a musical embodiment of that wild, burning urge to see the world and a personal favorite of mine. "I traveled the world looking for understanding of the times that we live in," HÃ¼tz bellowed as the crowd cheered him on.
Away from the frantic mayhem of the Barby, "Wonderlust King" takes the listener on a journey through a "new history of time," from Siberian woods to Chinese discotheques. "And presidents, and billionaires, and generals, they'll never know what I have owned."
THE SHOW grew wilder and wilder as it progressed. When HÃ¼tz introduced "Immigraniada," a fast-paced new track with a beat more Latin American than eastern European, the crowd quickly picked up the lyrics and sang right along with him. The song, which featured an Asian dancer in costume, energetic, melodious electric guitar work by Israeli-born Oren Kaplan and the ubiquitous accordion - at times cheerful, at times mournful, as is its wont - was one of the evening's many peaks.
The party continued with the funky "Mishto," a feel-good song in Romani and Russian that caused many in the crowd to temporarily abandon their wild jostling and shouting, and just dance. "Mishto" gave way to the distinctly more subdued "Through the Roof," which HÃ¼tz dedicated to all those who'd come to see the band at the Cosmonaut in Tel Aviv several years earlier, before the Bordello achieved world fame. And then, as if to remind the crowd that a Gogol Bordello show wasn't just any circus, but one dedicated to the Roma people, immigrants and everything in between, the band broke out in jaunty gypsy song.
However, the quiet interlude ended as the crowd began to recognize the intro of "Start Wearing Purple," arguably the Bordello's biggest hit. At this point, predictably, clothes of all shapes, sizes and colors - all predominately purple - were flung from crowd to stage and back again. Rivulets of purplish (okay, red) wine ran down the arms and faces of those in the front row as HÃ¼tz broke out the alcohol for the first time that night (that we could see, at least), splashing it indiscriminately over the eager heads in the crowd. It may sound unbelievable, but there was no decadence behind it - just the band's idea of a wacky good time.
After a long, energetic rendition of "Think Locally," the band came back onstage for several encores. The first of these began with HÃ¼tz sitting on a tin pail, just him and his acoustic guitar, singing "Alcohol." "Santa Marinella" followed, a high-spirited, very European song in Russian and Italian about drunken pilgrims in the town of Palestrina. Those who joined the band for the after-party at the city's Cat and Dog club were treated to another helping of the same.
WHAT IS IT that is so magnetizing about Gogol Bordello? It may be the eccentric, charismatic HÃ¼tz, without a doubt a character both onstage and on the big screen (in Liev Schreiber's tragicomic Everything Is Illuminated). It may be the band's highly original fusion - nay, celebration - of the musical traditions of cultures historically and unjustly cast aside to the fringes of European society. It may be their lyrics, ranging from quirky social commentary and high-powered, magnified takes on immigrant cultures to rambling incoherence and odes to booze delivered in HÃ¼tz's shrewd, albeit comical, English.
Still, perhaps it is their infectious spirit: adventurous, carefree, come-what-may. In coming through our little town of Tel Aviv, like the gypsies through Nebraska in "Sally," they not only aim to rock our world, but also to change it at their own pace - 60 revolutions per minute, no less.
The Bordello's message of a world free and open to all, a global community united by music and fused cultures, is as refreshing as it is inspiring. In "Tribal Connection," HÃ¼tz describes a "fun-loving, restless breed" stopping for a drink at the "intersection of all dimensions... Turning frustration into inspiration."
It is no surprise, then, that in a culture-clash country such as ours, so many young people see in Gogol Bordello a harbinger of a new kind of revolution, the kind that you can simultaneously believe in and dance to. For myself, being of descent so mixed as to be almost blurred, the pioneering, liberating attitude of these eternal wanderers is a joy to behold. And judging by the number of people that crowded into the Hangar and the Barby this week, there are quite a few immigrant punks to be found hereabouts.